Recording With(out) A Sound Mixer

TASCAM DR-701D MIXER/RECORDER

Q I want to upgrade my multitrack recording capability from my current Zoom H4n to something with more tracks and more sophisticated features. I’ve been considering the new Zoom F8 mixer/recorder. Is there anything else in the $1,000 or lower range that I should consider? We mostly shoot with the Panasonic GH4.
Drew G.
Via email

A I wrote a short review of the new Zoom F8 recorder in the December issue of HDVideoPro. The F8 offers amazing value for the money; it’s a fairly capable digital recorder for around $1,000. But there are other options that have been brought to the market recently, which, depending on your needs, could be better for you.

I had a chance to check out Tascam’s new DR-701D mixer/recorder. Tascam also makes its predecessor, the DR-70D, a portable four-track PCM recorder that was created specifically for the DSLR market about a year ago. The DR-70D was, and is, a capable unit, designed to have a DSLR camera mounted to the top of it. The DR-70D uses a slate tone generator to mark the DSLR’s soundtrack and the DR-70D’s soundtrack with a slate tone, a simple way of marking both soundtracks with an audio sync point, making syncing sound in post much easier. The 701D costs double the price of the 70D and looks similar, so what are the differences between the two units?

The DR-701D looks as if it was basically constructed from the same design as the DR-70D, but Tascam has beefed up the housing, from plastic on the DR-70D to magnesium construction on the DR-701D. The main feature differences: The DR-701D can record up to six channels at once versus four in the DR-70D. The DR-701D boasts a unique HDMI input that can read timecode from the HDMI output of the camera (if the camera is capable of outputting timecode) and replicate that timecode on its own audio tracks, allowing for effortless sync in editing.

The DR-701D also features a BNC timecode input jack so it can jam sync from incoming timecode from a pro-level video camera, other audio recorder output or from a timecode generator. These features are unprecedented in this price range of around $600 retail.

The DR-70D maximum bit/sample recording rates are 24-bit/96 kHz while the DR-701D allows for recording at up to 24-bit/192 kHz, a much higher audio resolution for more transparent recording. Four TRS/XLR combo mic inputs can be individually recorded and mixed to a stereo track for a total of six-track recording. For additional tracks, multiple units can be cascaded together.

The Zoom F8 can record up to eight tracks, but it also costs significantly more than this new Tascam. In my experience, the Tascam pre-amps and recording sections are very clean for their price range. If six tracks will work for you, consider the DR-701D.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

The Wireless Microphone Crisis

The wireless spectrum is about to change, and wireless microphones you own today might not work tomorrow. Find out what’s changing,  how to keep creating audio content, and how to avoid being affected by these changes.  Read now.


BUDGETING FOR A SOUND MIXER

Q I’m producing a relatively low-budget documentary about a band that has recorded and toured for over 20 years. While the film is low-budget, I know that without good sound, having the film taken seriously is challenging. We can’t afford a large entire location sound department, probably just a sound mixer and occasionally a boom pole operator for scenes that require dual booming or an occasional scene with a lot of dialogue. I’ve never hired a professional sound mixer and/or boom operator. Can you educate me on how to find a good sound mixer?
Raul C.
Via email

A The short answer to your question is that there’s no short answer to hiring a good sound mixer. The longer answer is that, as you’re aware, sound plays a huge part in how your film will be perceived by its audience. Therefore, the budget you allocate to hiring a good mixer and boom operator is money well spent.

Locating a talented sound mixer is no different than locating a talented DP, grip or gaffer; it’s mostly reputation and word of mouth. You can use online listings and services, of course, such as staffmeup.com and manta.com. Some people even have luck finding crews on craigslist.com, although, frankly, that should be your “Plan B”. If you’re in a hurry, or need a crew in a different part of the country, there are crew staffing services like crewscontrol.com and mediacentral.net that can quickly find you a crew almost anywhere in the world.

Once you’ve located several prospective sound mixers and/or boom operators, have a phone conversation with them. Briefly tell them a bit about the project and what the story is, the goals of the shoots, schedules, locations and any unusual sound requirements that you can think of.

If you’re shooting a feature film, definitely discuss your plans for doing or not doing ADR (automated dialogue replacement) in post, also known as “looping.” Once you’ve filled them in on the project’s goals, logistics and challenges, sit back and listen to what each mixer tells you.

If you’ve been in the business for a while, you should be hearing information that will give you an idea if this person is a fit with your crew and project, and if they will help you to fulfill the unique vision you have for it. Your best plan is to put your nose to the grindstone, and meet with and interview at least two or three candidates in person.

Then check references! In our industry, other producers and directors will gladly tell you how someone was to work with. Check reels. Not all sound mixers will have a demo reel, but they will be able to at least point you to some samples of their work online. The proof is in the pudding. If you don’t really notice the audio work, and the sound recorded is clear and easily understood, chances are, they know what they’re doing.

Here are a few more tips to hiring a quality sound mixer or boom operator.

• You generally get what you pay for. Sound is the most important technical discipline in filmmaking. Without great sound, your project probably will fail.
• Plan on including your sound mixer on every location scout where sound will be shot. They will hear things you can’t and will advise you if quality sound even can be recorded in a given location.
• Give sound mixers adequate time to put lavs (wired and wireless) on talent. It takes at least a few minutes to rig a lavalier microphone correctly, and the lavalier may require adjustment once talent starts to move around.
• Give your sound mixer, boom operator and assistants as much time as needed to solve problems as you would for a DP, grip, gaffer, or hair and makeup. Sound is arguably even more important to your success, so why shortchange it?

Even though this column is often geared toward DIY sound by producers, directors and camera people, your best bet is always to hire a sound mixer and boom operator whenever you can. Sound is too important an element to be relegated as an afterthought, captured by someone who’s not a pro. Recording clean, clear, dynamic sound on location is both an art and a science.

16 CFR Part 255 Disclosure: Tascam didn’t compensate me to write this article. Tascam didn’t send me a review unit to try out the hardware; I viewed it at a press preview. No material connection exists between the manufacturers mentioned in the article and myself.

To have audio questions answered, send an email to [email protected]

MENU